Become a Residential Interior Designer: Career Guide

Find out how to become a residential interior designer. Research the education and training requirements and learn about the experience you need to advance your career in interior design.

Should I Become a Residential Interior Designer?

Residential interior designers plan and design the interior elements of homes for comfort, style and function. They may use computer programs to plan out projects and select materials, lighting, color schemes and furnishings for interior spaces. Some specialize in a particular area, such as kitchens or bathrooms. Travel is often required, and work hours might be affected by customers' schedules.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Bachelor's degree commonly required
Degree Field Interior design
Experience Some states require at least 2 years of experience beyond the bachelor's degree for licensure
Licensure and Certification Licensure requirements vary by state; optional certifications available
Key Skills Artistic ability, creativity, visualization, attention to detail, interpersonal and problem-solving skills, ability to use computer aided design (CAD) software
Salary $54,850 per year (2014 average salary for all interior designers)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, O*NET Online

Step 1: Complete a Bachelor's Degree Program

Although it's possible to obtain an associate degree in interior design, most entry-level residential interior designers have a bachelor's degree. Training programs from design schools, colleges and universities typically take four years to complete. Students should seek a school that is nationally accredited, as some states may only provide licensure to applicants who have graduated from professional-level programs accredited by the Council for Interior Design Accreditation (CIDA).

There are also several online training programs with specializations in interior design; although, only a few of these programs are accredited by the CIDA. In addition, National Association of Schools of Art and Design accredits several institutions that offers programs in art and design.

Success Tips:

  • Build a design portfolio. The American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) recommends starting a portfolio as soon as possible. This should include high-quality photos of completed design work. Students can begin accumulating photos of their work while still in school.
  • Become involved with student groups. Some schools may have student interior design clubs or student chapters of the American Society of Interior Designers. Getting involved with groups offers great opportunities to network with peers as well as professionals in the field. Student interior design club projects can also be good additions to a portfolio.

Step 2: Gain Experience

Since getting licensed requires a combination of education and experience, aspiring residential interior designers should begin to acquire experience as soon as possible. Some schools may offer internships with design firms. Another possibility to gain experience is to enter an apprenticeship. The U.S. Office of Apprenticeship Training, Employer and Labor Services officially recognizes interior design as an occupation that accepts apprentices.

Success Tip:

  • Develop skills in commonly used interior design software. Residential interior designers use a variety of computer design and imaging programs in their work. Learning to use CAD and graphics software in real-world situations is a great way to become more comfortable using them as tools.

Step 3: Become Licensed

Not all states require licensure for interior designers. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, individuals without a license can perform interior design work in some states, while other states limit such practice to only those with a license. With the exception of California, the licensure exam is administered by the National Council for Interior Design Qualification (NCIDQ). To qualify to take the exam, individuals must have six years of experience in interior design, including formal postsecondary education. Professionals who pass this exam earn the Registered Interior Designer credential. The licensing exam in California is administered by the California Council for Interior Design Certification.

Step 4: Consider Certification in a Specialty Area

Residential interior designers may seek certification in a special area of interest. For example, the National Kitchen and Bath Association offers voluntary certification in kitchen and bath design. Earning certification in one particular area of residential interior design may help designers to show their expertise to potential clients.

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